Alongside Martins usual monthly Blog, Kaleidoscope CEO, Martin Blakebrough discusses the importance of asking the simple question of “Are You OK?” in his first ever Vlog:
Last month one of our employees, Lisa-Marie, partly because of her own life experience, championed the cause of ‘Don’t be a Bystander’. The campaign is designed to encourage people to support those who may be subject to domestic violence. It is about standing together against abuse and not being afraid to offer support and ask “are you ok?” to a colleague you feel is struggling.
An uncomfortable outcome of such a campaign is that it often brings to light our own issues. When does moaning at your partner for not doing this or that become about controlling them? At what point do we cross the line and become selfish or try to control our partners to see things from our point of view?
The question for many is what counts as Domestic Violence? The classic perception of a victim of domestic violence brings to mind an image of a woman, with her children, outside a refuge with a black eye. When it comes to challenging or questioning someone about suspected domestic violence, we mostly only feel comfortable when the physical signs mean it is impossible to ignore. We all feel comfortable condemning physical abuse because we can easily identify it. The problem is that other forms of abuse are not easy to see and often the most damaging form of unseen abuse is psychological. Coercive Control is very much about controlling another person which is achieved by making that person dependent by undermining their support systems and controlling as many elements of their life as possible. This is often carried out through threats, humiliation, and intimidation.
The fact that domestic violence is sometimes difficult to define can mean that we don’t feel comfortable asking a friend or colleague that difficult question. At work we may see the person appear more isolated and stressed, but if we do not feel the stress is linked to work, we sigh in relief. The truth is we may be the only port of call for that person, and outside their homes may be the only place where a person feels safe to express their fears. The campaign message is simple: ‘Don’t be a by-stander’. If you feel something is not right, ask the question. It could be the lifeline somebody needs.
Another issue that would benefit from the same attitude is excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol use is very prevalent in our society, and we must have the courage to talk to people about their use if we are concerned. The problem with excessive alcohol use is that it is often paired with shame, and it is this stigma that prevents us from asking questions. Another issue surrounding alcohol use is that it is different for every individual. It is not a question of plain right and wrong as domestic violence is, so requires a cautious approach. In recent news, we have seen Scotland tread on the side of caution as they introduced minimum alcohol pricing. This of course did not please everyone, with some arguing that the minority with drinking problems are having an impact on the majority who drink responsibly.
Again, the general perception of a problem drinker is of a person who is on the streets, clutching on to their special brew while asking for a few of our pennies as we pass by. The person we see in our mind’s eye may be in a hostel, in a single room, or in some cases we picture that heavy drinker isolated and cut off from society, confined to their home. We might see a young person causing a fight in a drunken brawl outside a nightclub.
Of course these are problem drinkers, and in some cases they cause us problems through their anti-social behaviour. Many feel they are a drain on our resources as they either beg or get state benefits. Despite these common ideas about problem drinking, the definition of a problem drinker needs to be broadened in everyone’s mind given the dangers of alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a particularly serious issue for the over 50s. It is why a new emphasis on raising awareness in that age group about how damaging alcohol can be, is now being developed.
The problem is not just about developing strategies to help people in areas of deprivation, it is also about asking individuals to assess themselves. It is important that when we discuss alcohol we ask ourselves difficult questions about our own use. What is becoming clear is any alcohol use has risks, and the more consumed, the greater that risk. We have to acknowledge those risks and ensure we are educated on the effects of alcohol in order to help ourselves and others.
In order to tackle both of the issues discussed here, what we need is kindness. We have to show kindness and courage and be prepared to take a risk in order to offer support to those who need it.
For more information on any of the issues mentioned, please see the links below: